Faculty Spotlight - Patrick Habecker

photo of Patrick Habecker title=
Patrick Habecker


Patrick Habecker Research Assistant Professor in the Rural Drug Addiction Research Center

Date that you joined UNL: I joined UNL as a graduate student in 2011, a post-doc in 2017, and as a research professor in 2019.

Hometown: Aside from some early years in State College PA and in Kennebunkport ME, I spent most of my time growing up in Lancaster Pennsylvania. I find it a little bit funny that I moved from Lancaster County PA to Lancaster County NE. It makes me wonder if all my future jobs need to be located in a Lancaster county or city somewhere.

Describe your research and how it contributes to alleviating or understanding health disparities?
I am interested in substance use, stigma towards people who use substances, and how personal experience with substances either directly or through friends influences our opinions on drug policy. Substance use intersects with health disparities in several ways such a denial of medical treatment, disdain by health professionals towards people who use substances, and laws and policies that make it far harder for people who use substances to maintain their health. The continuing rise of overdose deaths across the United States shows not just the increased number of deaths, but the disproportionate access to resources which can prevent overdose deaths across the country. By trying to understand patterns of substance use in Nebraska and what influences policy towards people who use substances I want to help build a better future in Nebraska.

What inspired you to study health disparities and/or your field of research?

I came to graduate school with an interest in sociology and criminology. My early work focused on outcomes of children when one of their parents are incarcerated, which brought me into some aspects of health disparities. In my third year I started to assist on a project focused on rural people who inject drugs in Puerto Rico. That project led to several follow-ups that focused on substance use and indirect health outcomes like HIV and hepatitis C. After I finished my PhD I had the chance to work in the Rural Drug Research Center at UNL and jumped for it. I have been working in the realm of substance use and health ever since.

What advice would you give to incoming students (graduate or undergraduate) who are interested in studying health disparities? Find mentors or labs working in areas you are interested in and see what opportunities are available. Look outside your own discipline at UNL as well as within your own discipline in other schools or settings. If you can, find internships and use your summers to get into the work you want to study or work professionally in after you finish.

What advice would you give to incoming faculty who are interested in health disparity research?
It is almost cliché to say join MHDI, but really, join MHDI! We are a great way to meet a lot of researchers across a range of disciplines and to quickly network and get involved with current research and proposals. There is also a lot of overlap between MHDI and the Grand Challenges at UNL, find a team and join up.

What would your colleagues/students be surprised to learn about you?
I’m never quite sure how to answer these. People are often surprised that I still ride a bicycle to work even when it gets down to -10 degrees. I also try to read a book a week on average with a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and history. I guess the last thing is that I will happily drive up to 8 hours in any direction to see The Glitch Mob perform live.

Learn more about Patrick Habecker